We’ve got a problem with housing in NSW/ACT and it’s getting worse. In fact many would say it has gone beyond being a mere problem and is now a crisis.
As house prices have risen over the last five years, those who already have a home are sitting back watching the dollars roll in, while many of those who can’t afford to buy a home are now facing the harsh reality that they never will. It really has been a case of the rich getting richer while the poor miss out.
My wife and I bought our first home in 2001, the year after we were married. 14 years later, we’re managing to pay our current mortgage even though our household income is less than what it was when we bought that first home and we were both working full time. I guess that means we’re amongst the ‘lucky’ ones, because there is absolutely no way that we could even think about buying the house we live in on our current salary, if we had not had the capital growth from the last 14 years.
Many are not so ‘lucky’. For some the crisis is experienced in their inability to purchase a first home. This inability pushes people with relatively high incomes back into an already tight rental market. The high demand for rentals increases rental prices, and reduces the availability of dwellings for lower income households. This means many are struggling to find a suitable place for their family to rent.
In Sydney, 62% of low income households are spending 30% or more of their income on rent, and 28% are spending more than 50% of their income on rent. Households spending high proportions of income on rent have little money left to cover food costs and utility bills. Low income earners are forced to live away from jobs and opportunities, with dire impacts on families, communities and the economy.
For many it is worse still. The infographic to the top right of this page highlights the way that housing affordability touches on most people in our society. Amongst lower income households, the limited supply of affordable housing increases the risk that people will become homeless or slide back into homelessness. Current figures indicate there are 28,191 homeless persons in Sydney alone. There are currently 60,000 people on a waiting list for social housing, with some waiting up to 10 years to find a place.
At the core of the issue is a structural problem in our economy where a growing number of people do not earn enough to pay for housing. All this means that housing in our society has become a source of stress for most people, when a home should instead be a place of refuge, safety, community and love.
A chance to respond
I’ve mentioned in previous articles that there is a public engagement group who are working to equip and enable all Baptists (working alongside others) to be effective and faithful witnesses to Jesus as we engage in our communities and society. In an increasingly pluralistic and ever changing context, we’re prayerfully considering how we can best embody our faith to a watching world.
This month we launch a renewed web platform on the Association website that will help Pastors, churches, small groups and individuals think through how they can best engage with our communities and society, and particularly with pressing issues like housing affordability, for the sake of the world and the glory of God.
Undoubtedly, there are people in our churches, and in the communities that we seek to serve, who are experiencing these problems. In response, Christians have both a responsibility and an opportunity to respond, to care for those lacking adequate housing, and those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
One of the important principles in the Old Testament Law is that there is a responsibility for God’s people to provide for widows, orphans and strangers in their midst. That is, for all the people who had no other source of provision because they fell outside the normal scope of the family group. James picks up the essence of this Old Testament vision of what God’s intention for his people was when he calls us to care for widows and orphans as an expression of pure and faultless religion.
In our society, God’s people carry that same mandate. It is expressed both in our personal and corporate actions, as well as in our advocacy to government who we need to hold accountable to work at a structural level to ensure that our economic and social systems, including our housing market, are serving (rather than exploiting) the poor and marginalised.
We have an opportunity to respond to the housing issue at a number of levels.
1. To engage
Recognise the reality that our Christian faith can too often be used as an excuse to marginalise those who are struggling rather than a motivation to get to know them and walk with them through their struggles. Pastors and leaders can start by understanding the extent of the issue in your community and how it is affecting families. To help with that understanding, there is also an opportunity to volunteer with BaptistCare HopeStreet, or another organisation working with people impacted by homelessness. Hear stories first hand and personalise the issue. www.baptistcare.org.au/get-involved/volunteering/
2. To pray
Pray for God’s intervention and comfort for those experiencing homelessness and/or financial stress. Prayer opens the way for mourning as we call out to God. And mourning opens the way for action.
3. To speak
The NSW Government recognises this is a significant issue and has announced a $1 billion social and affordable housing fund, however there is currently no clear plan regarding how this money will be used, nor any clear policies to increase the supply of affordable housing. Details of how to go about contacting your local MPs can be found at www.nswactbaptists.org.au/public-engagement
4. To act
Government funding will not be sufficient to address the shortfall in affordable housing. Consider whether you have access to housing that could be made available at affordable rates. Private investment is also needed. There are some great initiatives through groups such as Churches Housing – www.churcheshousing.org.au – that will support your church community to consider how you can help provide shelter for those experiencing housing stress or homelessness.
Safe and accessible shelter should be available for all people in our society. Working alongside Baptist Care and other partners, we believe we can help make this a reality for many more people. Increasing the availability of social and affordable housing is not only good for the individuals and families who benefit, it is good for our society as a whole.
I’m conscious that I’ve allowed my thinking about my own home to be more about its financial worth than it is about its social worth – but a home is so much more than an investment. Perhaps as we take action and pray for the housing crisis, we could also start to shift our culture’s perspective on housing. A home is a meeting place, a place for hospitality, a place where relationships can form and flourish, a place of safety and love.
Find more information and resources about housing and other key issues at www.nswactbaptists.org.au/publicengagement